THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM
PART 2 IN A SERIES OF 3
The relationship of the church to the kingdom concept in Scripture is of utmost importance for the perspective of the place of the church in God’s historical program. History reveals that much harm has come from the misunderstanding of this relationship. Based upon Augustine’s City of God, the church of the Middle Ages developed the theology which equated the church with the kingdom of God on earth, resulting in the absolute authority of the church in teaching and dispensing salvation grace. In another direction, this equation led to the concept of building the kingdom through the church, forgetting that the fulfillment of the promises of God’s reign is yet future (Cf. Hans Kung, The Church, pp. 90-92).
The equation of the church with the kingdom inevitably leads “to an intolerable glorification of the Church” which “is to forget that the power and the glory of the reign of God are still to come … that the Church is called to pilgrimage, not to rest. It is to forget that the Church is composed of men, and sinful men at that.…” (Ibid., pp. 92-93).
Such exaltation of the church at the expense of the proclamation of Jesus the Lord and the coming kingdom reign has not only often contributed to the failure of the church in its mission of servant in the world, but has also led to dissatisfaction and criticism of the church when it failed to produce a millennial utopia on earth (Ibid., pp. 93-94).
On the other hand, any radical divorce of the church from the kingdom sunders it unbiblically from participation in the salvation program of divine history.
DISTINCTIONS OF THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM
Meaning of the kingdom. The kingdom of God in Scripture is the all-embracing program of God’s divine salvation history. All ages, peoples, and saving activities are in some way related to it. It has well been described by Sauer as “the royal saving work of God to the carrying through of His counsels in creation and redemption.” (Sauer, p. 89).
Its comprehensive scope is seen in the prayer for the kingdom which the Lord taught His disciples: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:9). The coming of the kingdom is nothing less than the coming of the reign of God upon this earth. Involved in the term kingdom (basileia) are both the sovereignty or royal dignity of a king, and the realm or territory in which this kingship is exercised (Karl Ludwig Schmidt, “basileia” in TDNT, 1:579-80).
The kingdom of God thus refers to the sovereign rule of God over His creation. Although there is, in the ultimate sense, one kingdom of God, the Scripture uses this term for two distinct aspects of this kingdom. On the one hand, it signifies God’s universal, eternal rule over all creation: “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps 103:19). On the other hand, it refers to the eschatological Messianic kingdom which is to be established in history, which Christ announced as at hand, and for which He taught His disciples to pray. While the first kingdom is ruled directly by God, the second aspect is founded upon covenant promises and ruled through the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the Seed of David. It is the purpose of this mediatorial aspect to establish the reign of God, which is now over the earth, directly upon it, and to make the kingdoms of this world “the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15b).
Stages of the kingdom. The kingdom program has been manifest in several forms as it moves toward the ultimate establishment of the kingdom of Christ upon earth. Founded upon the covenant promises with Abraham, it was begun in an initiatory form in the kingdom of Israel. Not only did God rule over Israel with the manifestation of His Shekinah glory in the tabernacle and the temple, but through this nation the way of salvation was prepared for all nations (Jn 4:22; Ro 11:12-15). The next appearance of the kingdom came with Christ. It was present in His person (Lk 17:21) and also in the power of the Spirit demonstrated in His mighty works (Lk 11:20). Again the glory of God was present, this time veiled in human flesh (Jn 1:14; cf. Lk 9:29-32). The kingdom is now present, working in the church according to the mysteries described by Christ in His parabolic teaching (Mt 13:11 ff.; cf. 20:1 ff.; 22:2 ff.) until the end of the age (Mt 13:39, 49). Finally, the mediatorial kingdom will be consummated in the millennial reign of Christ in glory on the earth (Rev 20:4-6). After the final putting of all His enemies under His feet, the kingdom will be delivered up to the Father “that God may be all in all” (1 Co 15:24-28).